Under cover of a sudden interest in developing new green technologies, the Israeli government hopes to weaken the Gulf states by making their oil redundant and thereby defeating “Islamic terror”.
Uzi Landau, the national infrastructures minister, outlined a vision of a world without oil this week to Israel’s most loyal supporters in Washington as he searched for wealthy American-Jewish investors and White House support for the strategy.
His message was that: “The West is addicted to oil, and so is bound by states that support terrorism … Whoever wants to fight radical Islam and terrorist organizations should know that by purchasing gasoline, he’s giving terrorists increased motivation.”
Analysts say the plan’s chief goals are to cripple the large oil-producing Gulf states, particularly Iran, which is seen as Israel’s main rival in the region, and resistance groups that oppose Israel’s long-term occupation of Palestinian land.
“Israel hopes that by repackaging the ‘war on terror’ in this way it can gain sympathy in the West and deflect increasing expectations that it make concessions to solve the conflict with the Palestinians,” said Avner de Shalit, a politics professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Thousands of delegates at last week’s annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the most powerful pro-Israel lobby group in the US, heard Mr Landau describe the Israeli strategy as the best way to win the “war on terror”.
The conference was also attended by many senior US politicians, including administration officials such as Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state.
Without Arab money from oil, Mr Landau argued, Iran would fade as a regional power and “terror groups” like Hamas in Gaza and Hizbullah in Lebanon would cease to exist. Instead Israel could serve as an alternative “powerhouse” in the Middle East for environmentally friendly energy sources.
Both Israel and the US are determined to isolate Iran, which they claim is trying to develop a nuclear warhead to rival Israel’s own large nuclear arsenal. The White House is seeking to impose stiff sanctions, whereas Israel is believed to favour a military strike.
Israel failed to crush Hamas and Hizbullah, two resistance groups that are backed by Iran, during attacks on Gaza last year and on Lebanon in 2006.
In a session entitled “Breaking the habit: Can US-Israel cooperation reduce our oil dependence?”, Mr Landau appealed to the US to join Israel in eradicating oil dependency as a way to defeat terror.
As he left Israel for the conference, he told local reporters he would try to persuade his audience that “by taking away its primary source of funding, we can defeat terrorism without firing a single bullet.”
Mr Landau is known to be acting on the direct instructions of Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, who announced back in October a “national project” to end the world’s reliance on oil within a decade.
At the same time Mr Netanyahu gave responsibility to the National Economic Council, a think-tank inside his office, to develop “breakthrough” inventions that would eradicate the world’s need for oil and coal-based electricity.
“Dependence on fossil fuels strengthens the dark regimes that encourage instability and fund terror with their petrodollars,” Mr Netanyahu told the cabinet as he unveiled the plan.
Gideon Bromberg, head of the Israeli green group Friends of the Earth, said Israel had a very poor record on environmental issues, but that he welcomed Mr Netanyahu’s belated interest “even if it is for the wrong reasons”.
“He is an opportunist and recognises that oil brings power,” said Mr Bromberg. “If you can find an alternative to it, you make yourself more powerful and make your enemies weaker.”
Haaretz has reported that Mr Netanyahu also hopes that new green technologies will allow Israel to strengthen its ties with China, which the government believes is the rising global power and less interested in the Palestinians and Israel’s occupation than the US and Europe.
Although Israel has developed new solar energy and water technologies, Mr Netanyahu is reported to want a revolution in fuels used in transport, which accounts for a large proportion of oil use. Israeli companies are already involved in researching battery technologies for cars.
There are strong indications that Israel’s green technologies drive is related to plans developed by US neoconservative groups in the build-up to the attack on Iraq. Mr Netanyahu is known to have maintained close ties to neoconservatives in the US.
Some of these groups lobbied the previous administration of George W Bush to invade Iraq so that its oil fields could be privatised and the international markets flooded with oil.
According to the reasoning of officials at one influential think-tank, the Heritage Foundation in Washington, privatisation would drive down oil prices, break up the Saudi-backed Opec oil cartel, and drain money away from “terror groups” and radical Islamic education.
Some neocons regarded this policy as particularly beneficial to Israel, because it would starve Hamas and Hizbullah of funds and take the pressure off Tel Aviv to end the occupation.
In practice, however, the occupation of Iraq did not help Israel. Funding to Hizbullah and Hamas instead appears to be provided by Iran.
The influence of neoconservative think-tanks on Mr Landau has been indicated in recent weeks by the decision to share the stage with leading neoconservatives such as James Woolsey, a former head of the Central Intelligence Agency.
At a debate on ending global oil dependency at Israel’s annual “national security” convention in Herzliya in February, attended by most of the Israeli cabinet, Mr Woolsey urged the destruction of Opec, claiming that Saudi Arabia controlled 90 per cent of Islamic education.
He said that when people filled up their cars “you are helping to finance the people who finance hatred, incitement and terror”.
That view was echoed by other participants.
In December the United Nations criticised Israel for its poor record on using renewable energy sources. It ranked bottom for using solar sources to generate electricity, behind countries such as Senegal, Eritrea and Mexico, as well as Western countries with only a few hours of sunlight.
A government watchdog, Israel’s state comptroller, issued a report the same month arguing that Israel had not taken even basic measures to address climate change.